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Monday, December 31, 2007
Meet Your Own Daemon -vvx



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Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Sichuan Trip part 9 -vvv

Day 9: 17 Nov 2007

We left Xinduqiao and headed eastwards. The road between Xinduqiao and Mount Zheduo was well-known for its scenery. When people refer to Xinduqiao as Photographers’ Paradise, I’m sure they were talking about this stretch of road instead of the dirty town I just left.

The lighting was terrible that day. The sky was still grey and cloudy. One could hardly see the Sun. I might as well be using black-and-white film. Things started to get better as we approached Mount Zheduo. As the car climbed above the cloud level, we began to see blue sky and sunlight again.


Out of the shadows and into the light



There was a white stupa at the highest point of the road over Mount Zheduo. I thought it looked magnificent amidst the snowy landscape. We stopped for a while to take some pictures. I was a little worried about getting snow blindness so I worked as fast as I could. My father, on the hand, took his time as usual. While waiting for him, my sister and I built an incomplete snowman by the road.

After Mount Zheduo, the road descended into the gloomy grayness again.

In my opinion, at this point, the best parts of the trip are mostly over. The subsequent places we visited are more touristy places, such as the Hailuogou Glacier Park, Leshan Big Buddha and Mount Emei. These places have their own merits but I don’t think they offer more value for money compared to the previous few destinations. Moreover, you don’t get the feeling of being on an adventure, especially when you’re surrounded by tourists and people who try to rip off tourists.


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Sichuan Trip part 8 -vvv

Day 8: 16 Nov 2007

We left Danba in the early morning but not before having assorted yak organs for breakfast. I took the opportunity to try the famous Tibetan butter tea I had come across so often in my trip research. It looked and tasted like cheese dissolved in hot water. I rather liked it.


Yak organs


Tibetan butter tea



The plan for the day was to travel to Xinduqiao, stopping along the way if we see anything interesting. The first stop was a natural hot spring by the road. The hot steam was perfect for warming my frozen hands. I didn’t want to soak in the water though; I read that sick locals like to visit hot springs. It was especially uninviting when the driver told me you can cure STDs by soaking in the hot spring for a week.

After leaving Danba, the road started to climb in altitude again. When we reached a snow covered mountain pass, the driver stopped to let us take a look at a typical Tibetan house. A little girl ran out, expecting us to take a photo with her. I knew it would cost me so I ignored her. She turned to easier prey, i.e. my mother, and demanded 10 RMB for a picture. That’s pretty high. The more adorable girl I saw at Siguniangshan only costs 2 RMB and she’ll even bring a kid (baby goat) for you.

The next place was the lamasery at the Tagong grassland. Renovation works were in progress so the place was rather messy and some parts were off-limits to visitor. I’m not sure if this was the temple where the Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng supposedly left a Sakyamuni Buddha statue but I didn’t see anything in there that looked more than a century old. My father wasn’t very happy about paying the 10 RMB entrance fee but I found that rather odd considering he had no problems giving 10 RMB to the girl who tried to rip us off a few hours ago.

The snow started getting heavy when we left the temple. We noticed a couple taking wedding photos outside the lamasery, wearing modern tuxedo and white gown. In this weather, that’s really hardcore.

We arrived in Xinduqiao soon after and found a hotel even cheaper than previous one. However, the rooms were freezing cold. (All hotels had no heater but at least Danba wasn’t as cold due to the lower altitude). You could even see the condensing moisture as you breathe indoors.

We walked around town a bit but didn’t see anything remarkable. The sky had been overcast ever since we entered Danba. The river running through Xinduqiao was rather polluted. All sorts of litter lay along its bank, definitely not a pretty sight.


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Sunday, December 23, 2007
Sichuan Trip 2007 Photo Highlights -vvv

Medium resolution scans of selected photographs from my Sichuan trip.











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Sichuan Trip part 7 -vvv

Day 7: 15 Nov 2007

Danba was named the most beautiful ancient town by the Chinese National Geographic magazine in 2005. In actual fact, the county seat looks just like any other Chinese towns. The beautiful aspects of Danba lie in the outlying Tibetan villages.

From my research, I know Danba to be famous for primarily four things: 1. Dangling, a remote undeveloped scenic spot reserved for only the hardcore travelers. 2. Tibetan villages. 3. Ancient stone towers. 4. Beautiful women.

Considering my mother’s lack of physical fitness, Dangling was out of the question. That was a pity because everyone who went there was full of praises for the place.

As for the villages, we visited the two most accessible and therefore, most touristy ones. Jiaju is particularly so because most of the houses there are well maintained, had satellite dishes on the roof and also function as some form of bed-and-breakfast. Zhonglu village is a lot less commercial but it still charges an entrance fee.

Lastly, we went to Suopo village, where the concentration of the ancient stone towers is the densest. The towers are part of the Tibetan fortress architecture. They must be hundreds of years old, quite remarkable that they are still standing. Since this was the last attraction of the day, my father took his own sweet time to take his perfect picture.

In the meantime, my mother chatted with a passing Gyarong Tibetan goat herder whose goats are scattered all over the mountain side. We found out from her that to gather the goats, they had to manually climb up there to chase the goats down. Why not use a sheepdog? According to her, they will be lucky if the dog doesn’t bite the goats. Oh my, they must have some ferocious breeds over there.




What about the beautiful women? Well, I didn’t see any. Apparently, the most pretty ones came from a particular village. Unfortunately, I had no idea where it was until much later in the trip. Information on the internet was also rather vague. Perhaps I will return another time during some festival. Everyone will surely be dressed to the nines.


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Sichuan Trip part 6 -vvv

Day 6: 14 Nov 2007

We left for Danba after breakfast. Sansao gave us a packet of dried goose egg fungus and some of her Xiaojin apples as a farewell gift. It happened to be Yang Qing’s birthday and she wanted to go shopping in Xiaojin town, which was halfway to Danba, so we let her squeeze in the car with us.

There were some monuments along the way related to the Long March undertaken by the Red Armies of the Communist Party of China. I’m not much of a history buff so that didn’t really interest me.

On the outskirts of Danba town, we visited the Mount Moerduo lamasery. Mount Moerduo is one of the major holy mountains in Tibetan culture. The lamasery itself is built around a giant boulder with an interesting tale behind it. As the story goes, two deities, Moerduo and Siguniangshan, took part in some form of competition. Moerduo lost and the penalty was to reside wherever the other chose. Moerduo was instructed to live in Danba and that was how the mountain got there. I can’t remember exactly how the plot develops after that but it roughly involves Siguniangshan hurling the giant boulder from Rilong to its current location.


Me at Moerduo temple



We reach the county seat of Danba around lunch time. There was a surprisingly large number of new hotels in the town. They must have sprung up in recent years, after Danba was featured in the Chinese National Geographic. We managed to get a room for 4 at an incredibly low 130 RMB. This hotel had the best rooms we had seen so far.


"The brigande abandons Jin Shan Youth Hostel". Huh?


Danba buildings have pipes leading down to the river. Disturbing.



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Saturday, December 22, 2007
Art is about quantity -vwv

Some time back, there was an article in the newspapers about how some young teenager managed to publish her own novel containing "tens of thousands of words". Then there was the artist who went on a drawing marathon. I'm waiting for a musician to go on a playing marathon next. Apparently, art nowadays is about quantity.


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2 Comments:

Was this the same article where they featured upcoming teenages like the one who cold type the fastest SMS and the pen-twirling one?
By Blogger Soqcrates, at 8:56 PM  

Nope.
By Anonymous yiheng, at 8:58 PM  

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Sunday, December 09, 2007
Sichuan Trip part 5 -vvv

Day 5: 13 Nov 2007

We rented 5 horses - 4 for people and 1 for my father’s bulky camera equipment. I got the horse with the lousiest saddle. It was practically a blanket over a metal frame. Fortunately, I had already acquired iron butt skill from those night cycling trips back home. The horse didn’t give me much trouble but it did have a habit of stopping now and then. To get it moving, all I had to do was make a “ch” sound. This I learnt from observing the local guides.

The Haizigou trail was the only one of the three valleys that offered a clear view of all the four peaks that form Siguniangshan, the Four Girls Mountain. Oddly, the big sister is the smallest and most accessible peak while the fourth sister is the highest and steepest peak. This trail is difficult because it is along the slopes of the mountain rather than at the bottom of the valley like the previous two trails. In addition, many parts of the trail were dangerously narrow, not unlike parts of Huangshan that I had seen. One false step would result in a long tumble down the mountain side to certain death. It can be quite unnerving, especially when you are further elevated on horseback. But after witnessing my horse walk down an impossible slope in the morning, I was convinced it was at least as sure-footed as I was, if not more so.

Even on horse back, it took us half a day to reach Dahaizi (Big Lake), the first of a series of alpine lakes. Dahaizi was not particularly impressive. Supposedly, the further into the valley, the more beautiful the lakes are. Regrettably, we ran out of time and had to turn back.

Instead of going all the way back to Rilong town, I decided to stay on the ridge to photograph the mountain during sunset. My family returned to Rilong with the horses and guides while I waited alone for that perfect photographic moment. I figured I was about 3km from the town and that the time between sunset and total darkness should be sufficient for me to make it back to town. Moreover, I carried a couple of glowsticks with me just in case.

As expected, the setting sun covered the mountain in a fiery hue. It was absolutely worth the wait. I must have used almost an entire roll of film in those 30 minutes. The trip back to town took only 40min but it got dark a lot faster than I expected. Near the end, I could barely see the rocks on the dirt path.

Sansao was away that evening so dinner was prepared by her daughter, Yang Qing. I found out that the tofu delivery guy just came today (only comes once in a few days), so I tried to order mapo tofu but she didn’t know how to cook that. We finally settled with something she could cook. The food was pretty good, rather impressive for a 16-year-old. Strangely, she didn’t know how to turn on the hot water when we requested it. You would think cooking is a more complicated task. Anyway, despite being covered by all the sand from the horse ride, we couldn’t shower that night.

We made arrangements for tomorrow’s transport to Danba. The driver for the past few days was unavailable so we had to make do with another guy. It was difficult communicating with this guy and I didn’t like his attitude. That’s a long story for another time.


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Sichuan Trip part 4 -vvv

Day 4: 12 Nov 2007

Sansao had arranged transport for us and another group of guests in her hotel to visit Shuangqiaogou this morning. We arrived at the old lamasery in the valley around 0630h. We have to travel the rest of the way on foot. It was total darkness at that time. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet Holmes through my telephoto lens but the other group was already moving off so we hurried after them (as we had no torch lights anywhere near the brightness of theirs).

After an hour or so, we separated and they went on ahead. They were planning to cover 30km that day so they had to travel much faster. I had planned on 30km too (as the famed Muluozi site was 15km from the lamasery) but considering yesterday’s experience, my parents probably wouldn’t make it.

About 7km into the valley, a girl in a yellow jacket caught up with us and we chatted for a while. I initially thought she was with the group in front as they were all in their twenties and looked rather similar but I was mistaken. The girl came from Guangzhou and was traveling by herself. She had just come from Danba, which was where I would be going next, so I asked her about her experiences there.

Coincidentally, while she was at Danba, a “living Buddha” was about to visit the town so all the villagers were busy with the preparations and all dressed up for the occasion. Unfortunately, she had to leave before the living Buddha arrived. She only managed to catch a glimpse of the living Buddha’s chauffeur. Apparently, she didn’t have enough yuan (fate).

A little further on, we encountered an old couple selling Yang Rou Chuan (looks like a long stick of mutton satay) in the middle of nowhere. The woman was a Gyarong Tibetan, apparent from the traditional attire she wore and the fact that many of the locals in the area are from the Gyarong branch of Tibetans. She sat on a rock, sewing something for her grandchild while conversing with my parents. It was comical when my father told her how much he envies her rural lifestyle while she was telling him how much she envies the city people.

By 2pm, we decided we had to start heading back or we would risk getting stranded in the wilderness by nightfall. It was a pity because judging from the surrounding terrain, I was pretty sure we were at most half an hour’s walk from Muluozi. The weather was also too cold for camping (this is true for Singaporeans unprepared for subzero temperatures). Otherwise we could’ve rented equipment and just camped overnight there.

On the way back, we saw a local middle-aged woman traveling with a bunch of children. My mother enquired if they were her children. They immediately burst into laughter. It turned out that the children were really the woman’s grandchildren.

When we returned to the hotel in the evening, there were some interesting new guests at the hotel - an Australian woman named Bianca and her mother (I think her name is Fran). They joined our table for dinner since my family was the only other group that spoke English. Bianca spoke mandarin rather well, probably due to the fact that she had been studying at Kunming for 4 months. After that, she went on to travel around China for another 5 months, including places like Tibet and Yunnan. I found out that they managed to get to Rilong from Chengdu in 6 hours. They must have been so lucky to be able to gain access via Balangshan.

After dinner, we made arrangements for horses through Sansao. Haizigou, the final valley to visit, was rumored to be very demanding physically. I read that one has to climb 200m just to reach the valley entrance. There was no way my father could carry his heavy camera up there without horses.


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Sichuan Trip part 3 -vvv

Day 3: 10 Nov 2007

Rilong town is the base for exploring the Siguniangshan as it is where the three valleys of the scenic area converge at their southern end. From west to east, the three valleys are Shuangqiaogou (Valley of two bridges), Changpinggou (Valley of Long Grass Plain?) and Haizigou (Valley of Lakes). Siguniangshan (Four Girls Mountain) lies between Changpinggou and Haizigou. Siguniangshan, also nicknamed Queen of the Shu Mountains, was the main attraction of the trip. Our plan was to visit the valleys in increasing order of difficulty over three days.

Shuangqiaogou was the easiest and most developed. A road stretches through the entire valley and an official tour bus operates at regular interval. We took the official bus but it might have been a mistake. Since it was off-peak season, the last bus service ends ridiculously early. It was also rather irritating that other tourists kept telling us to move faster (and mildly amusing when one of them accused us of having low IQ).

The day ended pretty early. My mother wasn’t feeling too good. Perhaps it was the high altitude (or maybe it’s just in her mind).

I set up my camera by the window before nightfall. I had witnessed the clear starry night before and was hoping to capture its splendor on film. (It didn't turn out too well. It was surprisingly under-exposed.)


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Previous Posts

Swing Along 2009 -vvv

FF13 -vvx

YGBSM -vvw

Tibetan Song -vvx

Unfortunate Side Effects -vwv

Memorable News -vwv

Five Golden Flowers -vvz

Art Appreciation in Singapore -vvw

Openmindedness -vvx

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